Showing posts with label Coronavirus pandemic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Coronavirus pandemic. Show all posts

Monday, September 14, 2020

Did colleges engage in a bait-and-switch scam to maximize revenues during the coronavirus pandemic?

According to a recent article in the Washington Examiner, American universities lured students back to campus this fall by deceptively promising to offer at least some in-person instruction. Then--after the students showed up and paid their tuition and fees--the colleges changed their policies and offered most or all of their classes in an online format.

In the Examiner's view:
[C]ollege administrators pulled a classic con artist's bait and switch. They asked college students to return to campus and bilked parents out of full-freight fees with the promise that at least some instruction would be in-person rather than online. Shortly before school opened, with the money safely in the bank, they shifted exclusively or at least nearly exclusively to online instruction, but asked student to come back to campus anyway.
Is this a fair indictment? I think it is.  Schools all over the United States shifted to online teaching for the fall semester, which almost everyone agrees is inferior to face-to-face instruction. Nevertheless, the schools did not discount their tuition, and they did not close their dormitories.

How can a college tell students that in-person classes are dangerous while continuing to stuff the kids into residence halls and frat houses, where the risk of contracting the coronavirus is unreasonably high?

In my view, American colleges responded to the COVID-19 crisis to maximize revenue at the expense of their students' health. It was nuts for universities to pack young adults into dorms at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is still not under control.

But the colleges were forced to adopt this reckless policy because they need the cash flow.  Many universities financed their dorm-building sprees by floating bonds or entering into partnerships with private corporations that funded the construction projects in return for getting a percentage of the room-and-board fees. These schools have got to keep their dorms full to meet their financial obligations.

Unfortunately for American higher education, the coronavirus disrupted its business model.  Parents are not going to pay fifty grand a year for their children to take online classes, and they are not going to pay room-and-board fees so their kids can live in crowded dormitories where they face an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19.

This cash-before-kids policy is not going to work for a lot of colleges. Many will close in the coming year.  And the upcoming shut-down of American schools is not just due to the coronavirus pandemic. A lot of families have figured out that that the universities are charging way too much for mediocre academic programs that don't lead to good jobs.

As James Howard Kunstler put it in a recent blog essay:
[T]he colleges and universities are [not] going down hard . . . just because Covid-19 has interrupted their business plan. Rather, because of the stupendous and gross dishonesty that higher ed has fallen into. The racketeering around college loans was bad enough but the intellectual racketeering around fake fields of study, thought-crime persecutions, and an epic sexual hysteria has disgraced the very mission of higher ed, turned it into something no better than a sick cult . . . .
I could not have said it better myself. Americans are awaking to the fact that much of our nation's higher education system is a big scam, and they are increasingly unwilling to subject their children to an education system that looks more and more like the Spanish Inquisition.

The penalty for saying "All Lives Matter" on a university campus








Thursday, August 27, 2020

Colleges urged to go test optional: We don't need no stinkin' standardized admission tests!

More and more colleges are admitting new students without requiring them to take a traditional standardized admissions test: the ACT or SAT. According to the National Associaton for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), 55 percent of colleges nationwide have waived those tests for this academic year--that's more than 1,600 colleges.

Why? Some colleges have waived the tests because of the coronavirus pandemic. Taking those tests during the COVID-19 outbreak is a health risk, they say, and an additional burden on college-goers during an already stressful time.

Now the NACAC wants colleges to waive those tests for the 2021-22 admission cycle. According to this organization, requiring such tests makes colleges "appear to send the signal that college admission exams take priority over students' health . . . " The NACAC also maintains that some high schools now prohibit colleges that require applicants to take a standardized test "from engaging with their students through school channels." Really?

The NACAC goes on to make a couple of arguments against standardized test scores, which I view as nearly hysterical:
Should public institutions maintain that these test requirements, US Department of Education data suggest that they stand to lose tens of thousands of students (and correlated tuition)--both from within and outside the state--to institutions not requiring the tests.
In other words, NACAC claims that a college that requires standardized tests will lose students to institutions that don't, which will cost them tuition revenue. 

Moreover, the NACAC hints darkly, a college that requires applicants to take the SAT or the ACT could get sued for a civil rights violation!
They also risk [says NACAC] creating a disparate impact due to prohibitive costs of sitting for an exam, particularly among low-income and minority communities, which could expose state institutions, systems, and administration to civil rights actions.
Implicit in that statement is a warning that a college that requires applicants to take the ACT could be accused of racism.


Personally, I think the NACAC is sputtering pure bullshit. In my opinion, the reason hundreds of colleges have tossed out their standardized admissions test has nothing to do with students' health or their civil rights.

Colleges all over the country are in a jungle battle for students, as the demand for higher education ebbs. Schools must reach their enrollment targets to survive because they are dependent on tuition money--which means they are dependent on federal student loans.

By throwing out the ACT and the SAT, colleges make it easier for them to admit unqualified students.  Hey--these colleges are saying--just show up, fill out your financial aid application, and you are good to go. No need to take a stressful standardized test--a test that might document just how unprepared for college you really are.

But this trend, which is snowballing, is eroding the integrity of higher education.  As admission standards fall, more and more colleges are admitting students who are not capable of passing their courses under traditional academic standards. 

But the colleges need the tuition revenue, so weak students are not washed out. Instead, grading standards are lowered so that almost no student fails a course or even makes a D.

This trend is bad for nearly everyone. Many students who were not prepared for college-level study eventually get degrees, which deceives them into thinking they accomplished something. 

Students who are qualified to be enrolled--as evidenced by high scores on the ACT or SAT--get a watered-down educational experience as they sit in dumbed-down courses.

And jettisoning academic standards undermines the morale of faculty members--especially those who believe that students who come to college should have a basic grasp of grammar and diction. I myself have taught graduate students who had 18 years of formal education and still didn't know where to put a quotation mark.

But trash-canning the SAT and ACT is a good thing for colleges that have virtually become open-enrollment institutions(or at least nonselective institutions) but don't want anyone to know it.  It is so much easier just to admit nearly everyone who applies because even an unqualified student can get a federal student loan to pay tuition.

Already, we see the wreckage produced by a higher education industry that lowered academic standards to keep their enrollments up. Hundreds of thousands of people who were not prepared for college and incapable of completing a rigorous degree program are finding that their college experience did not equip them to get a job. Yet, they are saddled with student loans they will never repay and can't discharge in bankruptcy.





Thursday, August 20, 2020

Google says you can skip college: Uh-oh!

Universities have been whistling past the graveyard for years, Ignoring the signs of rot in their industry, they just rolled along through the decades, charging obscene prices for educational experiences that were obsolete. 

Overall, college enrollment dropped ten percent over the past decade, but the universities did not reduce their costs. Instead, they hired recruiters who flew around the country trying to raid students from competing universities in other states.

In a desperate search for paying customers, colleges "rebranded" themselves with catchy slogans pasted on highway billboards--slogans like "Change Your Life. Start Hear, Life's Calling. It's Your Life."

Then they whipped up "cutting edge" college majors, upgraded their recreation facilities, and constructed "luxury" student dorms. They rolled out romantic study-abroad experiences in England, Spain, and Italy. 

To pay for this nonsense, colleges raised tuition. When sticker shock set in, they switched tactics and slashed tuition--slashed it by half for incoming freshmen. But neither tactic stabilized their revenues.
Last spring, the universities were hit by the coronavirus pandemic, which is forcing them to spend lavishly to keep their campuses safe. Many are closing their dorms in response to the crisis--another revenue loss.

Meanwhile, Americans accumulated $1.7 trillion in student debt--debt they incurred in the often vain hope that a college education (and perhaps a graduate degree) would lead to a good job.

And now, Google has launched an inexpensive professional certification program that can be completed in six months. As reported by David Leibowitz, Google "signaled to jobseekers that they would treat these certificates, which require no prior experience of undergraduate credentials, as the equivalent of four-year degrees by their hiring managers."

Or, as Google put it, "In our hiring, we will now treat these new career certificates as the equivalent of a four-year degree for related roles."

What! Can a young person actually get a good job after taking a six-month training program without having to sit through four years of bullshit to get a bachelor's degree--or six years of bullshit to get a master's degree?

Can people really earn a living wage, marry, buy a house, have children, and save for retirement without taking a course in transnational sexuality? Without taking out $50,000 in student loans that can never be paid back? Without having a professor teach them that Mom and Pop, by staying in a traditional marriage, were participating in the structured exploitation of women and people of color?

Can that be true?

By God, we better hope it's true because the lazy, dysfunctional, anti-intellectual, toxic, and often racist cocktail that we call American higher education ain't working for us.

And I use the word "ain't" advisedly, because Rutgers University says that mastery of standard English grammar is not absolutely necessary to communicate as an educated person. 




"Learning. Leading," at the University of Houston. Yuh think?












Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, has 444 students. Roughly ten percent tested positive for COVID-19. Think about it

 When I was four years old, my father told me the most harrowing story of my childhood--perhaps the most harrowing story of my life.
In the spring of 1942, my father was an Army Air Corps fighter pilot stationed in the Philippines. He was captured by the Japanese when the American Army surrendered after the Battle of Bataan.
The Japanese imprisoned the Americans in Manilla but later transported them by ship to Japan. The vessels weren't marked as prison ships, and American Navy dive bombers spotted them steaming out of Manilla harbor. The Americans bombed the ships, and the Japanese locked down the hatches so that the prisoners would drown below deck if the ship were sunk.
American planes sunk at least one ship, killing all the American prisoners. My father's vessel was more fortunate. An American bomb blew a hole in its side, and the prisoners scrambled up on deck. My father started swimming and was recaptured by the Japanese, who were retrieving prisoners in small boats.
But, my father told me, some American prisoners could not swim. They stood on the deck of the sinking ship, crying and begging their comrades to save them.
"Did you help them," I asked? My father said no. He said he knew he could only save himself.
Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, has about 440 students, and roughly 10 percent have tested positive for COVID-19. Those students are being quarantined, but life must go on. Bethel is not closing.
What does it cost to attend Bethel College? About $43,000 a year, including room, board, tuition, and fees.  Most students pay less because they get some form of financial aid. But even with financial aid, students will pay about $25,000 a year to study at Bethel.
Does that make sense to you? Does it make sense to take out student loans to attend Bethel College during a pandemic? It doesn't make sense to me.
A lot of small, private liberal-arts colleges are going to close within the next couple of years. You do not want to get a degree from a college that will be extinct before you pay off your student loans.
These ships are going down, and you don't want to go down with them. Take a lesson from my father-- save yourself.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

One in four young Americans contemplated suicide in June: Will they feel better if they take out student loans and go to college?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms what Americans already know: The coronavirus pandemic is harmful to our mental health.  And young people are particularly vulnerable.

According to the CDC, one out of four Americans ages 18 through 24 contemplated suicide in June. The CDC's study did not break down that age group between college students and other young Americans. Still, everyone knows (often from personal experience) that going to college can be depressing.

Experts worry that the financial downturn will be hard on college budgets, forcing schools to cut back on counseling services for students.  But maybe not. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2018 that colleges have at least a limited duty to prevent their students from committing suicide. That decision is likely to prompt higher education to invest more resources in their students' mental health.

Personally, I think now might be the wrong time for young people to go to college. The job market is terrible, and no one knows for sure which industries will thrive after we conquer COVID-19. I think the financial turmoil will make it harder for undergraduates to pick a college major that will prepare them for a post-pandemic job.

The universities themselves are agitated by social unrest, with some institutions thinking about defunding their campus police.  Depending on how that goes, students may find themselves vulnerable to crime when they stroll across the quad on their way to Psychology 101.

And a college education has become incredibly expensive.  The National Center for Educational Statistics reported that tuition and expenses to attend a four-year college went from $5,504 a year in 1985-1986 to $$27,357 in 2017-2018 (in constant dollars). (My thanks to Steve Rhode for alerting me to those figures.)

That's a four-fold increase in college costs over 32 years. When prices are adjusted for inflation, the increase is less dramatic but not reassuring. Whose wages have kept up with inflation over the last 10 years? I know mine haven't.

If you are one of the millions of young people who graduated from high school and have no clue about what you are going to do for a living, don't take out student loans to find out. If you stumble into one of the flaky liberal arts or social studies majors (sociology, psychology, international relations, gender studies, etc.), you may well wind up with $50,000 or more in student debt and no idea how you will pay it back.

You think you are depressed now, how will you feel when your first student loan payment comes due?

If you decide to go to college anyway, do what you can to reduce the risk of depression. If you've read anything by J.D. Salinger, forget it and throw his books away. By writing Catcher in the Rye, Salinger has done more to depress young people than anyone with the possible exception of Bob Dylan.






Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Three moves equal one fire: In these troubled times, shelter should be the first priority.

In the early 20th century, a lot of Americans in the rural South were tenant farmers; and they often moved from farm to farm to remain employed. "Three moves are as bad as a fire," was a common observation because the disruption, property loss, and cost of moving could be devastating. Three such moves caused as much damage as one fire.

According to the Aspen Institute, as reported by Steve Rhode, "One in five of the 110 million Americans who live in renter households are at risk of eviction by September." Most of these people live in urban areas, but the trauma and loss caused by eviction are just as devastating for them as for the Southern tenant farmers who lost their homes a hundred years ago.

Being evicted often means that parents have to pull their children out of school in midyear, which disrupts their kids' education. Renting another apartment usually requires the new tenant to come up with a security deposit, which may be impossible for people who have no savings and no credit cards. Moving to a new apartment also means having to open a new account for electricity and water, and often the utility companies require a deposit.

Three moves equal one fire in modern America. And people who can't scramble successfully from one rented apartment to another become homeless.

Our federal government has distributed massive infusions of cash into the American economy to offset the economic calamity caused by COVID-19. Still, a lot of that money went to people who don't need it. More than 600,000 businesses benefited from the Payroll Protection Program, including 1,400 investment advisors.

Poor people, on the other hand, have received scant relief.  The government mailed out  $1,200 one-time checks a few months ago, but that amount may not cover a month's rent.  Congress fattened people's unemployment checks by $600 a month--a significant benefit, to be sure, but this aid is temporary.

We already see the disruption in housing caused by the coronavirus. The number of adults living with their parents has spiked upward to 24.8 million, with the most significant increases among people in their early twenties.  Sixty percent of young Black men are living with their parents or grandparents.

Matthew Desmond called for radical changes in housing policy in his 2016 book titled Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. He argues for universal housing vouchers to guarantee that every American would live in a home that is "decent, modest, and fairly priced."

In the short term, I don't see significant changes in national housing policy.  But this much seems clear. The federal government needs to devote a substantial amount of its coronavirus-relief money to making sure unemployed, and low-income Americans can stay in their rented homes.

Shanty housing during the Great Depression






Monday, June 29, 2020

Coronavirus update: The Fed bought $428 million of corporate debt while distressed student-loan debtors get diddly squat

Perhaps you have noticed, as I have, that a high percentage of the George Floyd protestors are young White people.

 Youthful White men and women helped pull the ropes that brought down statues of Confederate figures across the South. And it is Millenials--White Millenials--who joined in the vandalism and destruction that damaged many American cities.

Why is that? Are White protestors merely standing in solidarity with their Black brothers and sisters over the residue of racism in the United States? Or do they have their own grievances?

I think it is both. In this season of discontent, we should remember how many Americans have been thrown out of work--tens of millions.  And we should never forget that 45 million Americans--more young than old--owe $1.7 trillion in student debt, and only about half can pay it back.

This nation has been in lockdown for four months now due to the coronavirus epidemic.  Public employees--professors, teachers, administrators, etc.--are still getting paid.  Workers in the private sector have been laid off by the millions, especially in the service industry. And many of these unemployed workers have student loans.

What has our federal government done to assist laid-off student-loan debtors?  Diddly squat.  The Department of Education has granted a brief reprieve from making monthly loan payments and is abstaining from charging interest, but that is about it.

Oh, yes, DOE said it would stop collection efforts against defaulted college-loan borrowers until the coronavirus crisis had passed. But last May, DOE was sued for allowing employers to continue collection efforts.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Bank is buying up corporate debt--over $400 million. So far, the Fed has bought corporate debt owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Coca-Cola, AT&T, Boeing, Exxon-Mobile, Ford and Walmart. And it has distributed more than $350 million in forgivable loans to businesses that promise to maintain their payrolls.

Who has benefited from the Fed's helicopter money over the last few months?  Corporate executives and corporate stockholders, that's who.  And--in case Fed Chair Jeremy Powell hasn't noticed--the people protesting on America's streets don't own stock.

I don't mean to question the motives of White protestors who join the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. I feel most are expressing real and legitimate anger about race relations in the United States.

But I also believe that White protestors feel a kinship with Black protestors on economic issues and consider themselves to be fellow victims of corporate America.  And I agree with them about that.

Many White demonstrators have racked up thousands of dollars in student debt and are not holding down jobs that will allow them to pay back what they owe. Some have come to realize that their college education was way too expensive and didn't prepare them for decent jobs. 

Now, these student-loan debtors are out of work and struggling to make their loan payments. They realize that our federal government has been spewing out billions of dollars to corporations to help them deal with the coronavirus while it has done virtually nothing for distressed college borrowers.

They are angry. I would be angry too--very, very angry. 





Saturday, June 27, 2020

Planning on going to college this fall? Why not wait a year or two?

Since time immemorial, middle-class parents have urged their children to get a college education. A college degree, parents believed, was the indispensable ticket to a good life.  College was where young people prepared for the world of work, where they often met their future spouses, and where they formed lifelong ties to classmates.

But listen carefully. Times have changed. The coronavirus, campus unrest, and a troubled economy have undermined the value of a college degree. If you are thinking about enrolling for college this fall, you might want to postpone that plan--at least for a year. And here is why:

The coronavirus pandemic. First of all, the COVID-19 epidemic forced virtually every American college to close last spring and to shift from live instruction to a distance-learning format.  Most schools have announced that they will be teaching their courses online this fall. 

Moreover, dorm life, college sports, and extracurricular activities will all be negatively impacted by the coronavirus.  In short, going to college next year may not be much fun.

Colleges and universities will learn to adapt to a post-pandemic world, but it will probably take a couple of years before they figure it out. Why not postpone college for a year or two while this transition is ongoing?

Less police protection.  Colleges have a legal duty to keep their students safe on campus and in the dorms. Most colleges meet this responsibility by maintaining a campus police force.

In the wake of George Floyd's killing, however, many colleges and universities are facing intense pressure to dismantle their police forces. As Insider Higher Ed recently reported:
 Student organizations, workers’ unions and individual activists at dozens of universities are calling on administrations to cut ties with local police or disband campus police departments, saying that policing institutions enact violence upon black people and uphold white supremacy.
So if you go to college this fall, there is a good chance that police protection on your campus will be diminished from what it was a year ago or even eliminated.  In my view, this is another reason to postpone going to college. Wait until the debate about campus law enforcement is resolved before embarking on your college career.

Growing uncertainty about the worth of a college degree. Although the higher-education industry tirelessly touts the value of college education, that mantra is becoming shopworn.

Without question, the cost of going to college is far too high.  In particular, students who take out student loans to major in "soft" disciplines (social sciences, humanities, gender studies, etc.) are finding that their degrees leave them with massive debt and no job.

Some young people go to college with a clear idea about how their degree will qualify them for vocations in such fields as engineering, business, computer sciences,  or medical technology. But others are clueless about why they are on campus.

If you have only a hazy notion about how you want to make a living, you should strongly consider working for a year after graduating from high school. You should use the time to reflect on your future and explore alternatives to chasing a college degree.

In my state, thousands of people have gotten technical training at vocational and community colleges and gone on to get good jobs with six-figure salaries.  If you ask these people whether they are sorry they didn't acquire a bachelor's degree, I think most will tell you no.

So think long and hard before going to college this fall, especially if you plan to finance your studies with student loans. Your chosen university will still be around in 2021 if you decide to pursue a college education. 



Sunday, May 31, 2020

To hell with social distancing: Let's loot the liquor store!

Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd on Memoria Day. Riots began in Minneapolis on the following day and quickly spread across the country. Within a week of Floyd's death, more than half the states had called out their National Guard.

Dozens of police officers have been injured over a week of rioting. In New York City, almost four dozen police cars were damaged or destroyed. In Chicago, a policewoman was assaulted by rioters who tried to keep her from making an arrest.  In Minneapolis-St. Paul, more than 250 buildings were damaged or destroyed by rioters, including a police station and a post office. 

All this mayhem was triggered by the unjust killing of a black man, but I think there are other causes for all this violence. After all, there are 40 million Americans who are out of work.  Surely some protestors are on the streets simply because they are unemployed and bored.

For example, while watching the television coverage of the riots last week, I saw a slightly obese white guy in his fifties who was out on the streets of Minneapolis.  A television camera captured the man verbally abusing a police officer from a distance of about six inches from the officer's face. Does that guy have a job, I wondered? 

I don't wish to disparage the motives of the people who are demonstrating in our cities, but I think there would have been a lot less vandalism, arson, and looting if there were not so many jobless people.

A dude with a job would probably turn down an invitation to set fire to the post office. "It's a lovely invitation," he might say, "but unfortunately, I have to be at work tomorrow by 8 AM." 

He might also beg off from joining an expedition to loot the local liquor store. "I wish I could join you," he might explain," but I have to get the kids off to school tomorrow morning.

Requiring people to wear masks when they appear in public is also playing a role in all this chaos.  Many states passed anti-mask laws back in the 1920s to help bring down the Ku Klux Klan. But this past week, thousands of protesters were wearing masks that cloaked them in anonymity should they decide to throw a firebomb at a police cruiser.

George Floyd's death has fueled legitimate anger all over the United States. Everyone realizes that. But in my opinion, these riots will not be quelled so long as millions of Americans are jobless and required to wear masks when they are on the streets.

Burning police cars: requiring people to wear masks is part of the problem.



Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Second (and kinder) thoughts about distance learning at the universities during the coronavirus pandemic

Not long ago, I commented on the mass shift to distance learning at American universities, which were forced to close their campuses last March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Disappointed students sued more than 50 colleges about the transition, arguing that the quality of their education had deteriorated when face-to-face instruction was suspended. I commented that the students were surely right and that distance learning is indeed inferior to traditional modes of teaching.

Since I wrote that commentary, however, I taught a course as an adjunct at my former university, and I was pleasantly surprised by the experience.  I delivered this course using two distance-learning tools: Moodle and Zoom.

With Moodle, I was able to post all my reading materials and communicate with my students about their assignments. Using Zoom, I met with a small group of students in "real-time," and we were able to discuss court cases very much as if we were all in the same room. 

This positive experience with distance learning caused me to revise my views. I now believe that most colleges can maintain the overall quality of their instruction, even if they are forced to rely heavily on distance learning in the upcoming fall semester. But I still believe something will be lost if universities rely too heavily on technology.

 Zoom, I learned, is an excellent way to meet with small groups of students who are in different places. I think seminars and small-class settings taught through Zoom or a similar product can continue with little loss in quality.

And it seems to me that large lecture classes will not be adversely affected if professors give their lectures by video.  After all, one of my first classes as an undergraduate more than 40 years ago had 700 students enrolled. I was given an assigned seat at the back of the auditorium and could hardly identify the gender of my professor.  Delivering video lectures may actually be an improvement over having instructors drone on to hundreds of students in a cavernous auditorium.

I am still skeptical of so-called asynchronous teaching, where the professor presents students with canned instructional units without ever having any personal interaction with them. In my view, this kind of education amounts to little more than a correspondence course.

I am also skeptical about distance-taught instruction that assesses student performance through pass-fail grading.  It has been my observation that all rigor goes out the window when a professor is grading students on a pass-fail basis. It is almost impossible to fail anyone when the assessment standards are so relaxed, and it is absolutely impossible to reward students who excel in their classes.

And I continue to be opposed to academic programs that are delivered entirely online. After all, who believes that an undergraduate degree, a master's degree. or a doctoral degree that is offered entirely online is in any way comparable to an academic degree taught traditionally on an actual college campus?

I wish all the colleges well as they adjust their academic programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  I think most of them can deliver instruction this fall through various distance-learning formats without too much loss in quality.

Nevertheless, most students choose their colleges based on their perception of what their campus experience will be like. They don't just sit in classes, after all. They live in residence halls, interact with other students, and immerse themselves in all kinds of extracurricular activities. Some percentage of students will not go to college this fall if they can't have a traditional college experience.

Most commentators predict a significant enrollment decline if academic life doesn't get back to normal (or at least close to normal) by the fall semester. I think they are right. And the colleges that will suffer the most are the small liberal arts colleges and the regional public institutions.

This guy should be teaching online.


Thursday, May 14, 2020

One-day bankruptcies for corporations and decade-long bankruptcy proceedings for student debtors: Is that fair?

Jonathan Henes, a corporate attorney, wrote an op-ed essay for the Wall Stree Journal a few days ago calling for Congress to codify one-day bankruptcies for financially troubled corporations. "The one-day bankruptcy would streamline the bankruptcy practice," Henes argued and would reduce business disruptions and legal expenses.

Henes's appeal in the Wall Stree Journal is not the only suggestion for streamlining the corporate bankruptcies that are sure to come due to the coronavirus pandemic.  A group of legal scholars wrote a joint letter recently asking Congress to appoint more bankruptcy judges to deal with corporate bankruptcies that are looming on the national horizon.

Henes's essay and the legal scholars' letter both make reasonable suggestions on behalf of America's big businesses. If corporate America backs these proposals, they have a good chance of being enacted into law.

But is anyone thinking about relief for America's distressed student-loan debtors? After all, according to the Department of Education's own report, 8.1 million college borrowers are in long-term repayment plans that are designed never to be paid off and which can last for as long as 25 years. How about some bankruptcy relief for these people?

It would be cruelly ironic if Congress codifies one-day bankruptcies for corporations while the Bankruptcy Code makes it nearly impossible for insolvent student-loan borrowers to discharge their college loans in bankruptcy.

And even student debtors who prevail in the bankruptcy courts often find themselves embroiled in appellate proceedings that can last for years.  Michael Hedlund, for example, filed for bankruptcy in 2003 and sought to discharge student loans he had taken out to go to Willamette Law School. 

Ultimately, a bankruptcy judge granted Hedlund a partial discharge, but the decision was reversed by a federal district court. Hedlund appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ultimately upheld his partial discharge. But the Ninth Circuit did not issue its opinion in Hedlund's case until 2013—ten years after he filed for bankruptcy!

One-day bankruptcies for big corporations and decade-long bankruptcy proceedings for beaten-down student debtors? That doesn't work for me.

References


Hedlund v.Educational Resources Institute, 718 F.3d 848 (9th Cir. 2013).

Henes, J. S. Congress Should Codify the One-Day Bankruptcy. Wall Street Journal, May11, 2020. 

Will Congress help corporations and ignore beaten-down student debtors?








Monday, May 4, 2020

Angry students sue more than 50 colleges after instruction goes on line in response to the coronavirus

A bunch of black swans showed up this spring, and they landed on top of every college administration building in America.

Last March, virtually every postsecondary institution shut down in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Students who lived in campus dorms were told to scram.  Face-to-face instruction screeched to a halt, and the colleges began teaching their students online. The departing students lost access to professors, libraries, and college recreational facilities.

Most universities refunded dorm fees and student meal plans on a  proportional basis. But the universities didn't refund tuition, arguing that students are still getting fair value because their classes are continuing online.

The students aren't buying it. So far, students have sued more than 50 colleges demanding to get their tuition money back. Online instruction is inferior to interacting with professors in a real classroom, they maintain. And of course, they are right.

The colleges respond, with some justification, that they did not anticipate the coronavirus pandemic and are doing the best they can under the circumstances.   "Faculty and staff are literally working around the clock," Peter McDonough, a lawyer for a college trade group, argued defensively.

I sympathize with the colleges, but I can say with authority that professors don't work around the clock on anything.  If they claim to be working 24/7, they mean they're working 24 hours in a seven-day week.

And if the universities claim their distance-learning format is equal to face-to-face teaching, they are not telling the truth.  A few professors are tech-savvy and can quickly shift to online education, but a lot of them can't.

In any event, America's elite private schools have justified their nosebleed tuition by professing to offer small class sizes and ample opportunities to personally interact with their professors.  They can't credibly change their story now and claim that their online instruction justifies tuition at $50,000 a year.

Regardless of whether colleges win these lawsuits, they will be severely stressed financially in the coming months. One study predicts that four-year colleges could lose up to 20 percent of their fall enrollment. Any small private school that loses 20 percent of its students this fall will be closed by May.

If you are a professor who works at a small private college, it is time to formulate a Plan B. What will you do if your school shuts down and you are thrown out of work?

And if you are a student who plans to enroll at a small, private school this fall, you too need a Plan B. You need to find out what your institution's financial situation is. You do not want to take out student loans to pay tuition to attend a college that may close before you graduate.

The black swan: Coming soon to a campus near you





Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Coronavirus bailouts for the casinos but nothing for harried student-loan debtors: Let'em eat cake!

Congress turned on the money spigot last month and spewed out cash to millions of people and businesses that were hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

The airlines are getting bailout money, the casinos are eligible for aid, and corporations are accepting loans they don't needAutoWeb, for example, got a $1.4 million federal loan and gave its CEO a $1.7 million bonus one week later.

Meanwhile, millions of Americans are burdened by federal student loans they can't repay.  More than a year before the coronavirus outbreak, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos publicly admitted that only one out of four student borrowers were paying down both principal and interest on their federal loans.  One out of five borrowers, DeVos disclosed, were delinquent on their debts or in default.

Now, with the unemployment rate hovering near 15 percent, and millions of hourly workers out of a job, college-loan debtors are struggling more than ever.

And what has the Department of Education done to assist harried student debtors? Not much.

DOE is giving college-loan borrowers a six-month deferment from making their monthly payments, and it won't assess interest on outstanding loans during that time. DOE has also temporarily stopped seizing wages, Social Security benefits, and tax refunds of people who defaulted on their federal student loans.

In other words, the Trump administration is shoveling big bucks to corporations, while it throws a few crumbs to college-loan borrowers.

Here's an illustration that shows just how meaningless the Trump administration's response to the student-loan crisis has been.

Laurina Bukovics borrowed $20,000 more than 30 years ago to obtain a bachelor's degree from Wisconsin University. Through the years, she made regular monthly loan payments except during times when DOE gave her deferments or forbearances due to her financial difficulties.

Over 25 years, Bukovics repaid $29,000 on her student loans—140 percent of what she borrowed. Nevertheless, by the time she showed up in bankruptcy court, her student-loan debt had grown to $80,000—four times what she had received from the federal loan program.

How much relief does a six-month moratorium on loan payments give to people like  Ms. Bukovics, who have been burdened by student debt for their entire adult lives and have seen their loan burdens double, triple, or even quadruple?

Hardly any relief at all.  The federal government has poured out trillions to alleviate the financial crisis that was triggered by the COVID-19 virus.  But much of this money has gone to corporations and businesses. 

When corporations ask the feds for money to help them get through the coronavirus pandemic, the government responds by saying, "Where do we send the check?"

On the other hand, when beaten-down student-loan debtors try to discharge their student debt in bankruptcy, the federal government almost always opposes relief. Ms. Bukovics, for example, was unemployed while she was in bankruptcy and living temporarily with a friend. She had no car, and she was so impoverished that she qualified for food stamps and Medicaid.

And what was the response by the Department of Education's debt collector to Ms. Bukovics's plight?  ECMC opposed bankruptcy relief because it believed Bukokvics was spending too much money on food.


Betsy DeVos's summer home




Monday, April 20, 2020

Coronavirus is a black swan event for regional public colleges: Many will be forced to close

A black swan event is an unexpected occurrence that has potentially devastating consequences. For higher education, the coronavirus pandemic is a black swan event.

Even before COVID-19 forced a shutdown of the national economy, American colleges were suffering from enrollment declines. Declining birthrates have led to a shrinking number of college-age individuals in recent years. Small liberal arts colleges and for-profit institutions were particularly hard hit.

Regional public colleges are also suffering. In Pennsylvania, for example, the state's system of public universities saw an enrollment decline of 20 percent between 2010 and 2019. One small public college, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, saw its student body shrink by 61 percent to less than 1,000 students. Lock Haven University, another Pennsylvania public school, experienced an enrollment drop of 42 percent.

Thanks in large part to the coronavirus pandemic, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education projects that its 14 public universities will lose between $70 million and $100 million this spring. Some state legislators are calling for the system's small colleges to close.

Several Ohio public universities have also seen enrollment declines. Ohio University, Kent State University, the University of Toledo, and the University of Akron all lost students in 2019.

The University of Wisconsin's 26 two- and four-year institutions have recorded enrollment drops as well. UW's two-year colleges experienced a shocking 49 percent drop between 2010 and 2019.  One institution, UW-Plattville at Richland, a satellite campus of UW-Plattville, lost 58 percent of its students in just one year.  As reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, the University of Wisconsin's branch campuses had fewer students in 2019 than they did in 1973.

All these enrollment drops took place before the coronavirus pandemic showed up. And enrollment declines will surely accelerate in the wake of statewide stay-at-home orders that have triggered staggering drops in state tax revenues.

In the years to come, regional publ colleges all over the United States will be forced to close. Many states have far too many regional campuses. As public revenues decline in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the states simply can't afford to keep them open.

Moreover, increased opportunities for online learning are making regional campuses obsolete. If students are going to take their classes from home computers, there is no need to have a brick-and-mortar campus in their neighborhood.

College-bound high school graduates who decide to enroll at a public university in their home state should make every effort to get admitted to their state's flagship public university.  By and large, the flagships are seeing an uptick in their enrollments and can offer broader course offerings and student services than the regionals.

A few regional public institutions are thriving and maintaining their enrollment levels. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where I taught until I retired, is poised to remain viable even if the economic downturn persists. ULL has a nursing school, engineering programs, and computer-science offerings that make its degrees attractive in Louisiana's job market.

But in Louisiana and in most states, the small, marginal public colleges that were often their community's largest employer will be shutting down. For most students, it will not make sense to attend a regional school that may disappear before they pay off their student loans.











Wednesday, April 15, 2020

As the economy spirals downward,take charge of your mental health


Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears
While we all sup sorrow with the poor

Hard Times
Stephen Foster (1854)

Make no mistake. America is spiraling downward toward a major Depression. Seventeen million people have already lost their jobs, and the unemployment rate will undoubtedly rise later in the year. Many unemployed people won't be able to pay their rent or make their mortgage payments.   Laid-off workers who had employer-provided health insurance will lose it and find they can't afford to pay for it themselves.

Financial stress has mental-health consequences and people who have suffered financial setbacks will be understandably depressed.  Thus, if you are one of the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs or a substantial part of their retirement savings, you need to pay close attention to your own mental health.

First, if you find yourself slipping into clinical depression, let your doctor know. Depression is a fairly common malady and is treatable. Your family physician can prescribe an antidepressant that can alleviate this medical condition.

Second, get some physical exercise, but don't overdo it. You don't need to run a marathon to get the benefits of physical activity. Just take a walk or ride your bicycle. Exercise is a proven way to reduce stress and depression, and relief is usually immediate.

Third, pay attention to what you eat. If you are down on your luck and scraping by on unemployment checks and food stamps, you may need to cut your food budget. But try to continue eating foods that you enjoy.  A good meal, especially a meal shared with family and friends, helps relieve depression.

If you are pinching pennies, you will probably stop eating in restaurants. But you can buy a cheap grill and broil hotdogs in the backyard.  You can also learn to cook inexpensive food so that it tastes delicious. I once swore I would never eat collard greens, but my wife cooks them so well that greens taste like a gourmet dish. 

Fourth, don't neglect relaxation. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, people went to the movies, which provided cheap entertainment. Today, a movie, a soda, and some popcorn will set you back about fifteen bucks.

But a Netflix subscription doesn't cost much, and you can see a new movie every night of the week. Don't cancel that subscription to cut costs unless you are desperate.

Fifth, take up a hobby.  If you are poor, you will probably not take up golf or skiing. But you can plant a small garden, even if it is nothing more than a potted tomato plant by your back door. You will find it immensely satisfying to grow and eat vegetables you grew yourself.

Finally, remember that the financial hardship you are experiencing is not your fault. You are the victim of twin evils: corporate greed and the coronavirus. 

If you've been laid off precipitously, told to clean out your desk, and walked to your car by a security officer, you have not lost your human dignity or the capacity to live a rewarding life. Do everything you can to take care of yourself and your family, and remember to manage your mental health.


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Bait and Switch: In response to the coronavirsus pandemic, colleges shifted to online instruction. Students aren't happy

According to Investopedia, "Bait and switch is a morally suspect sales tactic that lures customers in with specific claims about quality or low prices . . ." However, once customers are lured in,  "the advertised deal does not exist, or is of far inferior quality or specifications, where the buyer is then presented with an upsell."

When the universities shut down last month in response to the coronavirus pandemic, they sent their students home and partially refunded dorm fees they had collected from students living on campus. They also shifted all face-to-face teaching to online instruction while continuing to charge full tuition.

In essence, the universities engaged in bait and switch. They promised a classroom learning experience, but they substituted an inferior product--cobbled together online classes.

 But many students weren't happy with the change. In their view, online teaching is an inferior product.

Inside Higher Ed told the story of Arica Kincheloe, who took out $50,000 in student loans to enroll in a one-year accelerated program in social service administration at the University of Chicago.
Like most higher education institutions, the University of Chicago canceled on-campus classes and directed faculty to shift to a distance-learning format.

But Kincheloe believes she has been shortchanged. "It's a throwaway--a shortened quarter," she said. "I do not feel like I am getting the same education that I would have otherwise."

Other University of Chicago students agree with Kincheloe.  Fifteen hundred students signed a petition calling for a 50 percent reduction in tuition, and 850 students formed a group that is threatening to withhold their tuition payments.

UChicago administrators don't see a problem with the change. Administrators say students will get full credit toward their degrees even though the instruction has been modified. Therefore, the university will continue charging students full tuition.

The University of Chicago probably considers this controversy a temporary annoyance. All this may blow over if the university returns to traditional on-campus teaching this fall.

But I doubt it.

Private colleges have justified extortionary tuition by arguing that a student's on-campus experience--both curricular and extracurricular--is superior.  Those ivy-covered buildings, those cerebral tweed-coated professors, networking opportunities to mingle with rich people--the elite universities claim the whole package justifies charging tuition as high as $60,000 a year.

But if students are sitting at home taking classes that are little more than correspondence courses, then they might as well go to a less expensive state university.

Likewise, HBCUs are going to have difficulty justifying their existence if their instruction moves to a distance-learning format. As Pearl K. Dowe argued in a recent essay, the survivability of HBCUs "has always been rooted in their commitment to serve, educate and advance Black students in a [physical]space that is edifying, nurturing and empowering." So why would Black students enroll at an HBCU if they're taking their classes online?


I'm not saying the universities intentionally engaged in bait and switch. The pandemic forced them to suspend traditional classroom teaching. But they know that their hastily put-together online classes are a cheap substitute for face-to-face interaction with professors. In fact, many universities have gone to pass/fail grading for online instruction--an implicit admission that this mode of teaching is inferior.

I agree with the University of Chicago students.  The online instruction they are getting is not what they bargained for and is a shoddy substitute. The University of Chicago should slash tuition for the spring semester by 50 percent.

Online instruction is a shoddy substitute for classroom teaching.









Friday, April 3, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic: Is it time to stock up on canned goods and ammunition?

On the last day of February, I was attending the annual meeting of the Texas State Historical Association in Austin, Texas. I was thinking about history, not the coronavirus.

Today, I am "sheltering in place" in my home in Baton Rouge and 10,000 Louisianians have been diagnosed with COVID-19. As Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys reminded us during the Great Depression, "Time changes everything."

In the twinkle of an eye, the stock market plummeted more than 11,000 points. Retired Americans lost a substantial amount of their saving, which they probably won't recover. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis predicts an unemployment rate of more than 30 percent in the coming months, higher than during the Great Depression.

In my own extended family, four people have lost their jobs. My niece and her husband worked in New Orleans restaurants, and now they are both out of work. They have two small children.

Handguns, shotguns, and assault rifles are flying off the shelves, and some stores have run out of ammunition. A gunshop in my city ran a firearms sale recently, and you could pick up a 9 mm semi-automatic for less than $300.

Is it time to start stockpiling canned goods and ammunition?  I say not yet.

Americans are confident and self-reliant people. Our medical researchers and researchers in Asia and Europe will come up with a vaccine for coronavirus, and then we will all get vaccinated.  I believe we will conquer this virus within a couple of years at the latest.

The economy, however, is another thing entirely. President Trump signed a $2 trillion relief bill intended to head off a Depression.  But our government was running a deficit budget even before the pandemic began, and a $2 trillion bailout by itself won't bring my relatives' jobs back.

For a long time now, Americans have been living like "the road goes on forever, and the party never ends." But the party is over. At the governmental level and the personal level, we've borrowed too much money, and we can't pay it back.

We can take out more credit cards and print more money, but our reckoning day is near. When will it be time to start stocking up on canned goods and ammunition? Perhaps when the California and Illinois pension funds collapse.  Or when China starts dumping U.S. bonds.